We decided to sleep in and wake up just in time for breakfast and some Internet time. God knows when we would have the Internet again… Something I have come to depend upon so much now.
It was lovely to see the cute cafeteria where the tables were djembes that had glass on top of them. This was one of the reasons we were encouraged to book our stay there. A good sign of the taste of things to come we thought.
We reached the airport nice and early and checked in with no trouble whatsoever. It was a cute ATR fight with ‘free seating’, a concept I thought was done away with; but obviously not…
After a fast 50 minute flight we landed in Ziguinchor (now officially the worlds coziest airport). We walked into the airport where everyone welcomed us with wide smiles. I looked around for the baggage belts but didn’t find any. I looked behind me and found all the passengers in this similar predicament. Eventually, we noticed our baggage kept very neatly in a line where had to go and pick it up ourselves. Who needs unnecessary and expensive baggage belts when you have staging areas and healthy attendants who are willing to help for you a small fee, a good conversation and a smile…?
In similar fashion, a man walked up to Tannis and myself and said, ‘Bon jour, je researche Varun Ven…’, and before he even finished I smiled and said, ‘Oui c’est nous’. He welcomed us and took us outside where we met our third companion clode (who we thought was a man and hence tried to spot en route and on the flight but to our surprise we were mistaken. Clode is a beautiful percussionist from the south of France also here for the workshop with Mamady.)
We met our travelers, – the driver, one of the dununfolas for the Djembe Lessons and workshop (Cher), and of course, Ben. The 6 of us loaded our Stuff into our car, and embarked on our first African road trip.
The trip was bumpy, sandy and dusty. We passed the wetlands and saw a lot of mangroves on either side. The roads were alright in pockets. The driver drove extremely fast over bumps (all for effect I presume).
It was a long drive anyways and hence I thought, ‘why fight it?’, and brought out the snacks so we could get comfortable. All that was left was for all of us to break into song. The horizon was incredible with the sunset to our left and the bright shiny moon to our right.
Every village we passed had a checkpoint. Seeing trucks full of militia is not uncommon on these roads, is something I came to learn based on observation and this was confirmed by Ben. ‘Another reason the driver is driving fast’, he said.
Next, we noticed a full on road block. To our surprise, we did not make it past the customary ‘road closing’ time. This was anytime between 7 and 7:30pm. We had made it there at exactly 7:02pm. This road was closed in the evening for ‘security reasons’. Travelling on this route in the night was obviously not a done thing. We were making alternative plans of possibly crashing at a nearby lodge and then making it across the next day early in the morning. Since there were three cars stopped, plan A was going in a group to the captain and negotiating with him to let us pass. The situation was beyond our understanding. Ben would keep us informed as much as possible with the developments but I guess certain nuances and details were inexplicable at that moment due to circumstance and the language barrier.
This was sure an adventurous first day in Senegal. After a long wait we finally got permission and also a military truck escort to come with us and we continued our journey to what would be our home for the next month. The thought of hot chicken and chips with salad and a cozy bed waiting for us was oh so sweet at that moment.
We entered Le Belles Etoilles late in the evening and even though we couldn’t see much in the dark, we could feel the beautiful energy of the place. We met Counba, the lovely lady who managed the place and Coral, the one who put the entire workshop together along with Justine (who we met later that evening).
As we made our way to our rooms, we saw a car pulling out and saw the man himself, Mamady Keita. He was going to the Abene festival to check out a band from his region: Wassolon that was playing that evening. Along with him were Iya Sako (our other djembe instructor for the workshop) and Seckou Keita (our dunun instructor for the workshop). It was only a brief meeting but it was great to see Mamady (for the second time in the same year). His energy is infectious and I was immediately reminded of all the wonderful things that were in store for us. ‘Welcome to Africa’, he said as he drove away.
We made our way to the cafeteria to have our first Senegalese meal. I had some fried chicken with chips and salad. The chicken was stuffed with some garlic and herbs that tantalized the taste buds without prior warning. Ah, pure bliss. We then lit up a bonfire and were joined by Mamady, Iya, Justine, Coral and Seckou.
I’m still digesting all of this, taking it all in.
The next day was when the remaining participants were to arrive. So it was good to know that I had a free day ahead of me. This meant we had one more day to laze around, have a Djembe Drum Circle, take it all in, be touristy and prepare for some work the following day!!
Come. Drum. Be One.